Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Best Fancast

I've been reminded that in 2 weeks, Kansas City hosts WorldCon, an annual Science Fiction/Fantasy convention where (among other things), the Hugo awards will be handed out.  During WorldCon, the WSFSBM (World Science Fiction Society Business Meeting) will happen, and among other things, the group will decide whether or not to retain the Best Fancast category for the Hugo awards.  (This is small potatoes compared to other business, but I care a little bit about podcasts because I listen to them a lot and make one).

tl;dr - There are a lot of good fancasts worth of being recognized.  I'm not sure the award text, admins, or community are well suited to doing that, but that's par for the course with the Hugos.

I've had a little rant about Best Fancast building for a while, so I'm just going to spit it out here rather than clogging Twitter timelines.  I have a bit of a dog in the fight, since I host a podcast (apologies for the summer hiatus) that is eligible for Best Fancast, but I think the odds of being nominated are pretty slim, and I'll be happy with Cabbages & Kings with or without a Hugo nod.

So - on its surface I think that Best Fancast is a remarkably excellent and forward-looking award.  We're possibly in the midst of a podcast boom, and there are still niches being carved out specifically oriented around speculative fiction: there's the old guard - some SFF-focused friends sitting and chatting (last year's winners Galactic Suburbia, The Cooode St Podcast, and Fangirl Happy Hour, among others), the person or people interviewing guests (often authors on book tour, but we'll try not to hold that against them) (Skiffy & Fanty, Cooking the Books, and Tea & Jeopardy come to mind, along with Midnight in Karachi, which to my mind is the best of the bunch) (Cabbages & Kings kind of fits here), there are comics-adjacent friends chatting, and a whole slew of blerd podcasts that often touch on SFF stuff (shout out to Nerds of Prey, though I admit that in general these are too rambly for my tastes).  There are some difficult to categorize podcasts finding their own way (Flash Forward pod is the best, but also Imaginary Worlds, a part of the Panoply network), and I don't even know about Booktube, the various show recap/discussion podcasts, behemoths like The Incomparable network, and I'm sure many others.  It's a good time for fan podcasts, broadly defined.

But ... (of course there's a but, actually a few).

Here's the text of the amendment:

3.3.14: Best Fancast. Any generally available non-professional audio or video periodical devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects that by the close of the previous calendar year has released four (4) or more episodes, at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and that does not qualify as a dramatic presentation.

The fan community has generally assumed that "does not qualify as a dramatic presentation" means no fiction podcasts (no Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, or Uncanny, to name a few magazines that are often up for Hugos in one way or another).  This means that many of the podcasts that people love to listen to (the above, plus things like Black Tapes, Limetown, Escape Pod, or Glittership) are out.  Which kinda makes sense in terms of not awarding the same thing many times, but doesn't make a lot of sense in terms of how people think about podcasts.  Lots of podcast fans listen to fiction podcasts.  Many listen only to fiction podcasts.  And then they can't nominate their favorite podcasts, which is dumb.  Especially since this year's nominees include Tales to Terrify, which seems to be a fiction podcast.  Maybe next year Lightspeed, Clarkesworld and Uncanny can duke it out here, too.  Or maybe the admins just made a mistake?

Then there's the "non-professional", which I think was an attempt to make sure that Geeks Guide to the Galaxy didn't win everything (have you listened? their production values are not professional), but then ends up (maybe? probably? no way to ask the admins) excluding Writing Excuses, Rocket Talk (which is often interested in fandom writ large), and one of my favorites Midnight in Karachi.  It's not clear to me that there are professional podcasts with an unfair advantage in the Hugos that need excluding.  It's pretty clear that there are some which seem to be pretty fannish that seem to be excluded.

So the award text isn't great.  And I'm not sure it's being administered well.  Then there's the actual people nominating for hugos.  Even setting aside the current puppy debacle, it's not clear that the big exciting picture I painted of new podcasts and genres popping up is being seen by the folks who nominate for hugos.  I try to keep my ear out for good new podcasts, and while I see a lot of interest in various fiction podcasts that appear, I don't see a lot of nonfiction/discussion podcasts being mentioned.  Or YouTube channels being cheered.  It's not clear to me that the community that's voting for their favorite blogs & best novels/short stories has enough overlap with podcast listeners to meaningfully award this category.  It's dumb when because of their voting community Locus puts up "best of" award nominees that look like men write SF, women write fantasy, and Joe Abercrombie writes YA.  If the Hugo voting group isn't interested enough in the variety of speculative fiction podcasts out there to come up with a good list of nominees, then maybe the award isn't well served by the fans.  The Parsecs exist, after all. (Though I know very little about them)

Every objection there (that the category is not well-defined to meet the actual way people are consuming media these days, that the administration doesn't seem clear, and that the voting community might not know enough to hand out a representative award) could almost certainly be applied to just about every other Hugo Award category, of course.

So in two weeks, the World Science Fiction Society Business Meeting will vote (among other things), on whether to keep best Fancast.  I honestly don't much care which way they vote, and I'm not sure which way I'd vote if I were there.  A feature of the Hugos is that the award categories are such that they can be endlessly argued.  Might as well keep around one more to argue about, I guess? Or maybe this should be the hill to die on where fans valiantly take a stand and say an award's not worth handing out if we can't do it pretty well?  (Though I think YA is the category that keeps ending up on that hill, and I think the gendered aspects of that market explain that pretty damn well).

Rachel Acks will probably be liveblogging.  Galen Charlton may be tweeting again.  I'll be paying attention.  Yay impending WSFSBM!

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